Living with trauma

Living with trauma

My father died on November 19th, 1984. The ride to school that morning was a frosty one. I had a new navy cloak that got stuck in the door of Mr Legere’s silver Renault. Child locks were just becoming a thing then so I remember he had to get out of the car at the end of Little Forks Road to open my door so that I could pull my cloak tails in. A comment was made about it being a Monday.

My mother sat worrying in the front seat. It was the first slippery morning that my brother would have, traveling the marsh to Mt. Allison.

That is why I was so sure when my principal pulled me away from class later that day, that it was my brother Todd who had been in an accident going to school that morning and that Mr. Beardsley was telling me so.

Instead, it was the news that my father had died, that my mother and her faithful colleague and driving companion, Mr. Legere, were now on their way home and he would now take me there as well.

Details, details, never to be forgotten. There are others, Dr. Burden’s firm hand on my shoulder, my aunt with her comforting words, never to be forgotten, my cousin vacuuming excessively, and mom cooking us pork chops and rice.

Sights, sounds, smells.

In speaking with a colleague recently, she reminded me of certain behaviors “trauma kids” exhibit and it hit me full on in the chest that people I hold and held very near to me were and are also surviving with trauma.

I am living with trauma, and I have been since that frosty November morning almost 40 years ago.

I want to and need to know more. It helps in understanding the behaviors and reactions people have and will have; the behaviors of the beautiful man I continue to grieve; my own “go to” reactions, many subconsciously. And of course my incredible daughter, who now too has to live with the repercussions of sudden trauma. If there was any way to make things different for her, I would.

I think perhaps one of the most common misconceptions abut trauma is the idea that once identified, it can be fixed.

Don’t think so. Some of us learn to function better than others, depending on our foundations. Beatrice and I have family support, and the ability to seek counseling. I have learned to disregard those who see vulnerability as a weakness, which ironically, has made me a more capable person. But the fear of abandonment, rejection, dying, just to name a few, can come knocking at any time, and our impulsive reaction can be just that, an impulse: freeze, run, avoid, lash out, withdraw, the list is endless.

Do you know how to help a person with trauma? Be kind. Be observant and practice knowing. You get to recognize the triggers, especially if you spend any amount of time with them. And I guess, if you cannot do those things, because of your own existing issues or perhaps traumas, do not judge and shame. Feeling shame is probably one of the worst feelings in the world. And deep down, you know that.

As the person with trauma, get to know yourself. What are your triggers? The weather? Social media? I got so tired and depressed looking at people picking apples in early fall, I thought I was going to throw up. Do not be embarrassed or feel shame. As you learn more about your trauma behaviors, practice a little empathy of your own. It never hurts, and only helps.

Almost three years ago, I turned 50. I had a wonderful class who wanted to surprise me with a birthday party,so they had my administrator come down to say he needed to see me in his office. I was caught completely off guard, and could hardly breathe by the time we got there. Why? Because at that moment I was the 16 year old girl who was about to find out her father was dead. Something so innocent and beautiful almost became a disaster for me. So, I know how it works.

I also know the importance of being with people who know you and love you. On my worst days, those trigger days, I cry, knowing so many of those people are gone from my life. Actually I am crying now just writing about it. But, a young person’s face comes to mind. He is someone I have been working with since September. And I know it’s now time to use my experience, my skills, my knowing to stay with him on his journey as I am on mine.

We may not always be happy; let’s strive for contentment.

Peace be with you.

Early, Lord, one frosty morn…

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